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Archive for December, 2012

Someplace Wonderful

You are always on your way to someplace wonderful if you will just allow it.  Abraham-Hicks

We had finished stitching our hand-bound books together and were beginning to put away art supplies as the December 2012 Book Art Club in Joy Center’s creativity room was winding down, when Amber, our co-teacher, reached into a bag.  Her mother had bought it four or five years ago, she said, at a store in Cadillac, Michigan, back when she was altering old books by painting and collaging in them.  And somehow, this one that Amber was now handing to me at Joy Center a few weeks ago had ended up in a paper bag that her mother had brought to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for Amber, who also was creating art books by altering old existing ones.  As Amber placed it in my hands, she explained that somehow neither she nor her mother had painted in this one, and, as she was sorting through things this past month, she noticed it and thought of me.  It was the title that drew her in my direction.  Maine Lines were the words scrawled across the pine-colored cover of this book from the early 1970’s, this anthology of poems by authors who had lived in Maine.

Amber surmised that I would love this book of poems from my home-state, with its images of sea and shore and the people who settled its craggy coast, but she wasn’t prepared for my reaction. “Amber!” I gasped.  “Did you know that my Uncle Dick, my uncle, who was married to my father’s twin, my uncle who lived on the other side of the Point, just a footpath away from my mother’s cottage, was editor of this book!?!”  Of course, she didn’t know.  Sometimes I even forget that my tall lean Uncle Dick, who taught English to high school students and raised chickens and rode the ponies and renovated the barn at the family homestead was a well-known poet in Maine.  So we stood there, Amber and me and the other participants in Book Art Club, flabbergasted.

How does that happen?!?  How does it happen that a book that my uncle edited during my childhood years, one that I’d never seen or heard of, made its way to lower Michigan, to an address pressed into the cover page with a stamp, then to a used bookstore, and then to Amber’s mother, who somehow didn’t choose to alter it, and then across the bridge to the Upper Peninsula, to Amber’s house where it had sat in a bag for more than two years?  How does it happen that this book found its way back to me, who now lives thirteen hundred miles from that craggy coast in Maine, at just this moment?  The perfect moment.  Because it was the perfect moment for me to receive such a gift, not only the gift of poetry by Maine authors both familiar and new to me, but also the reminder that my Uncle, who passed on in the mid-1990’s, is my mentor now as I gather my poems and essays and stories about that same piece of land that we both lived on into a book.

It is like that when we expect our lives to be filled with wonder, when we allow the wonder to fill in – in its own wonderful way.  All we have to do is set our intentions, in general terms:  May this be the best-feeling day.  May our creativity flow.  May laughter fill us to the rim.  May we have fun.  May our hearts sing a buoyant tune.  May we be healthy and vibrant and filled with radiant energy.  May we appreciate the abundance that is here for us always.  May we love deeply.  All we have to do is set our intentions, and allow the universe to fill in the details, in ways that surprise and delight us.  I brought the book back to Maine with me in mid-December, showed it to my cousins and told them the story.  My cousin, Karen, Uncle Dick’s stepdaughter, found the jacket, with its handsome photo of Uncle Dick on the back, for me to wrap around the hard cover.   And the book, Maine Lines, now sits beside its unfinished friend, my Maine story, and Uncle Dick and these poems and their authors from the book that he edited are cheering me on as I revise and polish my own creation.

So here’s to a life of wonder, of allowing the details, the details that seem improbable to our human minds, to appear to us in ways that delight and thrill and inspire us again and again and again.  And Joy Center is someplace wonderful, someplace to experience your own version of wonderful.  So, peruse the January/February schedule and know that you are always welcome.  Happy New Year everyone!  May it be the best-feeling year yet!






Ebb and Flow

Grace emerges in the ebb and flow, not just the flow. The waning reveals a different blessing than the waxing.  Robert Brezsny

This is the quiet moment, the moment that you can almost hear the house sigh its great heaving sigh of release and settle a little deeper into its foundation.  This is the moment where the baby is asleep in his carseat which is sitting beside the couch in the living room where his mother has curled herself up on her side in a ball and is also asleep and his father is sitting on the other couch facing his sleeping wife and baby and is revising an essay he has written, the moment where his grandpa is puttering on some project in the basement and his uncle, the one who is driving here from Knoxville, Tennessee, with his girlfriend, Diana, and his two dogs, has just turned onto the Seney Stretch and won’t be here at this house which is heaving its great sigh for another two hours.  This is the moment where the sun in the late afternoon, on this day in the week of the shortest days, has just sunk down over the rooftops and the sky is streaked with soft peach-colored clouds.

This is the quiet moment where you, who are looking out at the peach-colored sky, catch up with your own breath and you heave your own heaving sigh of release because you know that there will be another moment before too long, a moment where the baby will open his blueberry button-blue eyes and will arch his strong little baby back and will cry a sharp get-me-out-of-here cry, a moment when the door will fling open and the uncle who is also a son who you adore will fly in with packages and suitcases and ski boots, and the dogs, who have never been here in this heaving-breathing house, will fly in too and will sniff and pull at their leashes and wag their dog tails and yelp their dog barks and the baby who hasn’t seen too many dogs will squeal a squeal of glee and the cat who is sweet and timid and hasn’t seen too many dogs either will be a loose cannon and you’re not sure what she might do, this cat who you also adore.

This is the quiet moment, the ebb before the next flow, the moment where you can pause and listen to this house that is your home as it settles into its grounded feet, where you can listen to your own steady stream of in-breaths and out-breaths, your own steady stream of thank yous, thank you for this quiet moment of sweet balsam and soft sunset and sleeping baby breath, and thank you also for the wild whoosh when the winds change and the energies shift and the volume rises to a raucous roar.  Thank you for all of it.  Thank you.

Viren in winter hat 2

 Baby Viren in his new winter hat


















No Problem!!!

No hurry.  No worry.  Eat Curry.  Ramesh Singh

The timing couldn’t have been better.

Even as I ordered the baby-bed, the one that my daughter-in-law, Shelly, had recommended, and the perfect crib-sized mattress and the organic cotton baby sheet, even as Grandpa Cam assembled the Fisher Price bouncy seat and set up the odor-controlled diaper container in the second-story guest bedroom and placed the scent-free baby wipes on the bureau changing table, even as we both cleaned and scrubbed and vacuumed and transformed our basement playroom into an acceptable bedroom suite for our son, Chris, and Diana and their two full-of-vim-and-vigor dogs, even as I wrapped the presents and packed them into boxes to mail to relatives and friends, a week earlier than my usual last-minute efforts, even as Grandpa Cam and I developed strategies for making life easier – extra rugs for boots, a basket for car keys, spaces in the house designated for quiet times – even after all of that and more, I knew that I was in the right place, last Friday evening, at Joy Center, listening to Cindy Brown share stories of her recent two-month adventure in India.

Her stories brought back my own memories of the trip that Cam and I took four years ago.  And, although we stayed in the north during our nineteen days in India, in the sacred Himalayan foothill town of Rishikesh and on a trek high in the mountains near the Chinese border, and Cindy spent her two months in the far south of the country, the gifts and lessons that we gleaned were similar.  During her talk, Cindy shared how India is an assault to the senses; it is the smell of curry and jasmine mingling with cow dung and rotting fruits.  It is the sound of people chanting the sun up over the Ganges and the blasting of car horns and the chatter of birds and the screeches of monkeys.  It is a Brahma sitting in lotus position with a look in his eyes that only comes after meditating for lifetimes and it is throngs of children reaching out to touch you and an old woman on a bridge with a begging bowl.  It is bright-colored saris and silken scarves and women sitting sideways on the back of mini-bikes with their fuchsia fabrics sailing in the steaming hot breeze.  It is bindis and bracelets and temples and hole-in-the-ground toilets. It is all of this, and so much more, not coming your way in an orderly fashion, in increments that you can swallow easily, but all at once, in a glorious colorful over-the-top over-stimulating meal of full-out life.

That is what I remembered last Friday evening while listening to Cindy, the assault to the senses, yes, and also the way that you give in to it, this pulsating thrumming humming drumming chanting life that is all around you and within you.  On some level, I never felt in control in India; yet, in some deeper way, I don’t think I have ever been more connected to Source.  As we bumbled along, Cam and I, in the backseat of the old SUV, on the two-track mountain roads at 12,000 feet, high in the Himalayas, with darkness approaching and sheer cliffs into the death-zone at our side, as the skies opened up and the windshield wipers broke down, when our guide, Ramesh, said, “No problem!” we had no choice but to surrender, to believe him, that there really was no problem.  He said this often, many times a day, in the more than two weeks that we rode and trekked and walked our way around northern India.  Out of our element as we tried to grasp at customs and language: no problem!  So hot that our skin was breaking out in hives: no problem!  So cold, we were wearing everything that we brought on this trek: no problem!  A tiger sneaking into our campsite in the middle of the night: no problem!  Loud and noisy: no problem!  Dirty feet: no problem!  Feeling queasy and a bit dizzy from the altitude: no problem!  And it was true, when we opened ourselves up, really opened ourselves up to this big boisterous life where everything was true and so was its opposite, there was no problem.  No problem at all.  And I have never felt so alive, so vibrant, so welcoming of experience.  “Bring it on, Life!” I found myself saying over and over.

And I’m suspecting that, “Bring it on, Life!”, is what I need to be saying right now.  We’re heading into the holidays, the ones that I am in the midst of carefully preparing for.  It’s going to be an onslaught of activity in our home, not for a weekend, or even for a week, but for nearly a month.  Both sons and their women are coming to the Upper Peninsula for Christmas, Chris for nine days, and Pete for three and a half weeks, dividing his time between our house and the nearby home of his in-laws.  Kudos to Grandpa Cam and I for some pre-holiday preparation.  It certainly doesn’t hurt to have a game-plan, to have sleeping spaces set up, to have a seat for our bouncing-baby grandson, to have a well-stocked kitchen and presents under the tree.  But I can feel something in me, something that wants to stuff it all in a neat and tidy holiday box and wrap it up with a tight little bow, something that wants to contain this experience so it doesn’t get too big, too loud, too filled with the thrumming drumming chanting Upper Peninsula-version-of-India life.

So how perfect to be reminded last Friday evening during Cindy’s talk that it is possible to think bigger, to unwrap the box of control and let the days unfold, this holiday season, in full-out living breathing color. How perfect to be reminded that it is possible to relax shoulders and say, “No problem!” when toilets clog and turkeys burn, and to mean it, to really meant it, to be reminded that there really isn’t a problem when we, like our Indian friends, let go of some illusion of perfection and find ourselves connected, instead, to the love underneath

Life is a Pure Flame

Life is a pure flame, and we live by an invisible sun within us.  Sir Thomas Browne

It keeps flashing through my mind these past few weeks, a story that my friend once told me about her grandson.  It was Christmas Eve and this grandson, who was six years old at the time, and his little brother who was two, and his mother and his father, had driven north to my friend’s house for the holidays.  And, now, as darkness settled over the town and the snow began to fall, my friend’s grandson placed the last of the ornaments on the tree in his grandmother’s cottage living room.  And he said, “good night!” to his much younger brother who couldn’t possibly stay awake a moment longer and he scribbled down a note for Santa Claus and he carefully set it beside the cookies on his grandmother’s fancy plate.  And that’s when he did something strange, something his mother and his father and his grandmother had never seen him do before.  That’s when he puffed out his cheeks and began to hold onto his head, to really hold on tightly, as though pushing it down onto his neck.  That’s when he then cupped his hands around his puffed-up cheeks and bulged his eyes wide and unblinking.  “What are you doing?!?” they all asked.

“I’m so happy!” he blurted out.  “I’m holding onto it, all this happiness, so my head doesn’t explode!”

What do we do when we are overflowing with feeling, when the excitement is bubbling up and we’re afraid it might boil over if we don’t take some sort of action?!?  A first grade teacher drew an angel card out of the crystal dish at the end of Joy Center’s yoga last Monday evening.  Each of these little cards contains a word, something to contemplate, a sort of mantra for the week.  She held her card up for the rest of us to see.  “It’s perfect!” she exclaimed.  Her word was “patience” and she said that’s exactly what she was needing for these next few weeks as the six and seven year olds tried their very hardest to contain their holiday enthusiasm.  I’m empathetic with these kids; I’m more than empathetic; I’m on board.  I’m on board the can’t-hold-it-in-when-it’s-bursting-to-come-out-train.  And, like my friend’s grandson, who found his own way to contain and express all this happiness, I, during my growing up years, had my own methods.  I skittered around in a jitterbug dance.  I shrieked.  I hollered.  I chatted.  I peeked at presents.  I jumped up and down.  And my mother, I am willing to bet that my mother prayed for patience as she pushed me out the door for some fresh-air play.

It’s not just the holidays that raise my exuberance level.  I’ve been feeling bouts of it throughout this autumn season.  I’m writing a book.  I’m on the homestretch; the book is almost written, this nonfiction book that is part present-day story, part memory, this book that is part letting go, part holding on, that is about the cove in Maine and my mother, about a legacy and a moving forward, this book that contains my writing and my mother’s recipes and sketches and art, a delicious synchronistic dance between the two of us, and between myself and this lovely young woman at Globe Printing in Ishpeming, who is taking my ideas for full-color layout and making them a glorious reality.  That’s when it gets to me the most, this busting-my-britches-excitement, this feeling of being on fire, when I’m sitting next to her and we are facing her wide-screened computer in downtown Ishpeming’s printing shop.  Stephanie, who also is ready to burst at nine months pregnant is a perfect partner.  She delights in my project.  And I sense that she delights in both my mother and I.  And when an idea arises from either Stephanie or myself, and the words get moved around or a painting gets added or we try something innovative and the result is more awesome than I could ever imagine, I truly don’t know what to do with myself.

I don’t want to hold my head on like my friend’s grandson or puff my cheeks out like a holiday chipmunk.  I don’t want to shriek or holler or do that silly little dance I made up when I was four.  Or do I?!?  I think that’s the challenge!  I do!  And so I ask again, how do we, whether we’re in first grade and we’re over-excited about the holidays and finding it very hard to focus on what’s required in school, or in our mid-fifties, and on-top-of-the-moon-happy as our creativity finds deeply satisfying expression, how do we release these happiness bubbles, these excitement sparks?  I think we just do it.  The world doesn’t need dampened down six years olds, or dampened down fifty-six year olds for that matter.  And more important, why would we dampen down something that feels so good?!?  So I’m going for it!  Puffing my cheeks up, holding my head on.  Jumping up and down.  Shrieking and dancing.  And every once in a while — actually, at least once a day — I’m sending myself outside to play!  And you’re welcome to join me!

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